By Rey Lambatin, Choir Director
The "Hallelujah Chorus," from Handel's Messiah, is such an iconic piece of music — and is so ingrained as a high church service tradition (Christmas, Easter) — that it's easy to take its exuberance and its greatness for granted.
Rob Kapilow, an American composer, conductor, and music commentator from Yale University, looked deeper into the structure of Handel's popular little chorus to discover why the music has such a powerful grip on singers and listeners — all the way back to King George II of England, who (legend has it) began the tradition of standing during its performance.
Much of the power of the piece, according to Kapilow, lies behind the rhythm of the word hallelujah. Handel could have assigned the four syllables of the word to four notes of equal length. But that would be boring — and it wouldn't be Handel. "What makes Handel great, is that first note is lengthened and then we explode at the end. We have this HAAAA-le-lu-jah." Another key to the chorus' power is in what Kapilow calls the "King of Kings" section.
"The thing that's so amazing about it, is that it's actually based on one of the simplest ideas you could possibly imagine: a single note repeated over and over again, one note per syllable — king - of - kings and lord - of - lords. But Handel keeps repeating the passage in higher and higher registers. "Each one seems to be the highest you could possibly get. That's the climax of the piece," Kapilow says.
For CGS, this song has become a part of our music tradition and is sometimes sung as part of our special services. What I think makes this song even more special is when we invite non-choir members to sing along, either up in front or staying in pews, and join our voices together carry out this very familiar and majestic tune. It fills our worship space with this music that creates a sense of unity for singers and listeners, as we all raise up our voices in Hallelujahs!